The most important quality of any scientist or researcher is their ability to observe and do so in detail. The smallest of change can have the largest impact and it is up to you to record changes accurately, honestly and in detail. We have said it before, and we will continue to reinforce the point that your integrity as a scientist and researcher is of paramount importance. Lying, skewing data, changing results, rushing experiments, and supplying misinformation can have devastating impacts. Maintain your honor by committing to the truth and your trust shall never be tested.
A Lab Notebook does not have to be a fancy; in fact, a marble composition book works perfectly. However, there are rules for maintaining a Lab Notebook and these rules are for your protection and reference as a scientist. So, before you embark on your STEM Fair project; let’s review the lab notebook rules for your reference:
1. Always label the exterior of your lab notebook to reflect the experiment you are working on. A good lab notebook should include the basic information: Your Name, Teacher / Professor’s Name, Class or Area of Research, The Experiment and Date Range. This is easy and there is no reason why you cannot include this basic information in your lab notebook. If you have heard the expression, “You never get a second chance at a first impression,” you should understand that your lab notebook should at the very least – make a good first impression. Never throw away an opportunity to begin correctly.
2. Make sure your writing is legible and avoid cursive writing if possible.
3. Write in a non-erasable Pen ONLY. Never use pencil.
4. When you make a mistake, draw a single line through the error. Never use white out and never completely cover the error. Those who are reviewing your work want to see the mistake you made along with the correction.
5. Never rip out any pages or leave any pages blank.
6. Always number your pages.
7. Always date your pages.
8. Include time as a value. For example: How long does it take for you to complete an activity; make sure to indicate that in your logbook.
9. Create a Table of Contents with corresponding page numbers for your ease of reference.
10. Do not shove loose paper into the notebook. If you must include information from a different source, copy it and crop it to fit within your lab notebook and tape it onto a page – do not use staples. Staples make a lab notebook bulky.
11. Always indicate the details of your activity but try to be succinct in your explanations.
12. If you have a large amount of white space – draw a large “X” in that white space to demonstrate nothing was recorded.
13. Indicate your action and commitment to safety in your logbook by writing down your safety precautions, protective equipment that you used and elimination of potential hazards. These are easy items to include in your lab notebook. By listing your safety procedures, safety equipment and potential hazards clearly and accurately you demonstrate your ability to start and experiment correctly and safely. Additionally, you establish trust between your capabilities as a scientist and those who critique your work.
14. Always maintain a copy of your work. Accidents happen and whether work is lost due to your error, a lab partner, or a teacher – it is imperative for you to maintain a copy. Take photos of your entries or utilize a lab notebook that has carbon copy pages – the main point is always – keep a copy of your work.
A note about writing in pencil:
When you are maintaining a lab notebook you are not allowed to write in pencil. Why? Because it is too easy to change the data collected. Scientists know, and expect, errors – we are human. If you make a mistake in your lab notebook, simply draw ONE LINE through the mistake and rewrite what you wanted to say correctly. DO NOT scribble over the mistake; DO NOT use white out to cover the mistake – scientists who are reviewing your lab notebook want to see what the error is and the correction that was made.
A note about writing legibly: Write legibly and only print – no cursive writing. There is absolutely no reason why you cannot write legibly particularly when details count. If your three looks like and eight – you have a problem particularly when it is time to analyze date. Write clearly so everyone knows exactly what is being communicated.
Lastly, bear in mind that the lab notebook allows those who are critiquing your work to review how you conducted your experiment and ask questions regarding your technique. Do not be offended and do not take comments personally. Learn from constructive criticism – do not collapse under it. One of our favorite websites for STEM Fair success is Science Buddies. For additional information make sure to visit their website at: www.sciencebuddies.org
- Make sure your list from the previous post is re-written neatly in the beginning of your Lab Notebook.